The viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs) are a diverse group of animal and human illnesses that are caused by five distinct families of RNA viruses: the Arenaviridae, Filoviridae, Bunyaviridae, Togaviridae, and Flaviviridae. All types of VHF are characterized by fever and bleeding disorders and all can progress to high fever, shock and death in extreme cases. Some of the VHF agents cause relatively mild illnesses, such as the Scandinavian nephropathia epidemica, whilst others, such as the African Ebola virus, can cause severe, life-threatening disease.
symptoms of VHFs include (by definition) fever and bleeding diathesis. Manifestations of VHF often also include flushing of the face and chest, petechiae, frank bleeding, edema, hypotension, and shock. Malaise, myalgias, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea occur frequently. Definitive diagnosis is usually made at a reference laboratory with advanced biocontainment capabilities.
The diversity of clinical features seen among the VHF infections probably originates from varying mechanisms of pathogenesis. An immunopathogenic mechanism, for example, has been identified for dengue hemorrhagic fever, which usually occurs among patients previously infected with a heterologous dengue serotype. An influential theory explaining this phenomenon is called “antibody-dependent enhancement.” In contrast, disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is thought to underlie the hemorrhagic features of Rift Valley, Marburg and Ebola fevers. In most VHFs, however, the etiology of the coagulopathy is most likely multifactorial (e.g., hepatic damage, consumptive coagulopathy, primary marrow dysfunction, etc).